Bruce Northam, the author of “The Path to Happiness: A 135-Countries Quest for Life Lessons”, is in love with Armenia.
“Surrounded by Muslim countries, this cradle of Christianity remains the last unexplored corner of Europe.
Most people do not have the faintest idea of where and what Armenia is, and they still have to discover this tiny country and its will to prosper both at home and around the world,” Northam noted.
The writer highlighted the key traits of Armenia’s character and shared tips on how to find its hidden treasures:
1. “Even veteran travelers cannot find Armenia on the map.”
Armenia borders with Azerbaijan, Georgia, Iran, Turkey, and the self-government of Nagorno-Karabakh. It is a part of the Transcaucasia. It gets on well with Iran and Georgia, unlike Turkey and Azerbaijan.
In fact, this is the only country in the world that has closed borders with two neighbors, Azerbaijan and Turkey. Despite the existence of unresolved issues with these states, Armenia remains one of the safest countries in the world. In this matter, it can be placed on the same level as Japan or Switzerland.
2. “Mind. Intelligence”.
As soon as you become comfortable here, you will understand that Armenians are intelligent. Really smart. It seems that their intellect is the number one subject of export. Long-standing academic traditions of the country go back to the first school established in 406, which taught the Armenian language and the art of translation. The literacy rate is 99 percent here.
Armenians regularly “catapult” to the world’s leading educational institutions through scholarships, foundations, and generous contributions of their diaspora counterparts.
Their reputation is likely connected with their ancient and universal alphabet, 39 characters of which include two different sounds each for “e” and “r”. Armenian is an Indo-European language and is related to English.
Unlike the United States, where men predominate in the technological sector, 50 percent of the technicians in Armenia are women. Chess, the most “smart” game, is a national pastime. It is included in the school program as a competitive sport and is taught, as a rule, by the same teachers who instruct the military.
As a result, Armenia has spawned many chess champions, including grandmasters, which is the highest chess title and is given for life.
3. Armenian roots in the US
“It is very likely that you have friends with Armenian roots. Eighty percent of Armenian surnames end with “-ian” or “-yan”, which is an Indo-European suffix indicating that the person in front of you is of Armenian origins. It is identical to “-ian” in the words of Washingtonian, Smithsonian, Bulgarian, and Kardashian”.
4. “The religious roots of Armenians are incomprehensible, but you do not need to be devout in order to think through it.”
In a country the size of Connecticut, there are thousands of ancient monasteries and churches, some of which are included in the UNESCO World Heritage list.
In addition, pilgrimage points are always open. Priests living in this places surrounded by mountains have wives and families and lead a life like yours. They can even invite you to their place and treat with wine. And there is no shortage of birds hovering over the monasteries.
Look up the Monastery of Marmashen, which was innovatively and solidly built in a seismically dangerous countryside in 988. Earthquakes in Armenia are not uncommon. Yes, they know what “shaking” is.
5. “Here, almost everything is incredibly cheap. Taxis, cafes, wine, beer, beautiful restaurants and shops (three pounds of organic tomatoes cost 30 cents). The prices remind about the US of the 1960s.”
6. “You will also learn that Armenia is a country of toasts, where endless dishes are interspersed with raised glasses and conversations.”
Temptingly flavorful food, music, and intellectual banter are within the norms. Small towns, such as Gyumri, are great places to start discovering the country with.
In the menu of the home cafe consisting exclusively of organic products, there is a huge selection of perfectly cooked and baked vegetables (vegetarians of Armenia smile widely), and this will satisfy even the most notorious meat eaters. With meat in Armenia, everything is fine too, but until you are hit by dishes with vegetables.
Concerts are sometimes held in the inner courtyard of Villa Kars.
I was lucky enough to see the Gurdjieff Ensemble of Folk Instruments, a world-famous music band, which visited the country in the scopes of their world tour.
Many buildings in Gyumri are built of large volcanic dark stone blocks. Some stone houses survived the terrible earthquake of 1988 or were restored while most of the fragile construction of the Soviet era became ruins.
Gorky Park is a green respite, which frees you from the trance of the dark-stone buildings. The construction of the Church of the Holy Savior began in the 1850s and continues to this day because of the 1988 earthquake.
7. Another aspect of the developing tourism sector in Armenia is the preservation of nature through conservation and ecology. Due to the microclimate and the altitude difference, there are about 360 species of birds (450 in the whole Europe).
In the northwest are crossroads of migration routes of birds. Among the high-mountainous meadows lies the Lake Arpi and the national park of the same name, which spreads over 21 hectares. From here, you can see neighboring Georgia.
We drove past one farm, saw Caucasian brown cows, a kestrel similar to owl, white pelicans, wolves, and single shepherds. Wilderness!
8. “You will spend a lot of time in the family dining room.”
During a lunch (vegetarian paradise, unless you touch eggplant stuffed with beef) at a long table in the “Triangle” restaurant with representatives of a dynasty of six generations of blacksmiths, I learned about the incredibly low crime rate in Armenia and the culture of feasts, the culinary carnival with an endless stream of food and drinks, making the table burst from a variety of vegetables, cheeses, and roasted meat.
9. “This is the apricot capital of the world.”
Fertile valleys of mountainous Armenia are ideal for growing apricots. Here, they even make brandy of them. Scientifically, apricot is called Prunus Armeniaca, “Armenian plum”. In contrast to local residents, you cannot stop guests from eating apricots.
Locals, however, always split the fruit in two to check it for worms. If there are worms in the fruit, you can be sure that it is organic, which is an exceptionally common occurrence in Armenia.
10. “Armenia is making great wine, which has been produced here for a very long time”.
Dated at the 4th century BC, in the archaeological complex of Agarak, there are cultic graves and ancient wine presses. But a living proof is waiting for the sommelier in the Voskevaz Winery, where the full-cycle wine campus has a hall with a collection of wines.
I tried several varieties of wines made in accordance with ancient recipes as well as their chardonnay Golden Berry during dinner with the current US Ambassador Richard Mills, who told that the US Embassy in Armenia was built in 2005 and was the largest in the world until 2008, when the construction of the US Embassy in Iraq was completed. Wine is yet another example of an underestimated national property coming out of hiding.